Lot 108
  • 108

Benvenuto di Giovanni, Girolamo di Benvenuto

150,000 - 250,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Benvenuto di Giovanni
  • The Nativity
  • inscribed on the scroll of John the Baptist in the left tondo:  ECCE AGNIUS (sic)

  • tempera on panel, arched top


Recorded in the Chapel of S. Egidio, Convento di San Francesco, near Cetona, Italy, circa 1860;
With Stefano Bardini (1836-1922), Florence, by 1887;
Michel van Gelder, Brussels, by 1921;
Thence by inheritance to his wife, by 1936;
With Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd., London, 1953;
From whom acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1954.


Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, 1921, on loan from Michel van Gelder, (as Benvenuto di Giovanni).


Most probably F. Brogi, Inventario generale degli oggetti d'Arte della Provincia di Siena [compiled 1860-1865], Siena 1897, p. 107 (as Benvenuto di Giovanni del Guasta)1;
A. Venturi, "Esposizione dei primitivi italiani a Bruxelles," in L'Arte, vol. 25 (1922), p. 168, reproduced (as Benvenuto di Giovanni);
R. van Marle, The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting, The Hague 1937, vol. 16, pp. 404-407, reproduced p. 407, fig. 235 (as Benvenuto di Giovanni);
F. Bologna, "Miniature di Benvenuto di Giovanni," in Paragone, vol. 51 (March 1954) p. 18;
"New Acquisitions," in The Art Quarterly, vol. XVIII (1955), p. 85, reproduced (as Benvenuto di Giovanni);
E. Le Vane and J. Paul Getty, Collector's Choice:  The Chronicle of an Artistic Odyssey through Europe, London 1955, p. 226 (as Girolamo di Benvenuto);
W. Valentiner and P. Wescher, The J. Paul Getty Museum Guidebook, Los Angeles 1956, p. 18, reproduced pl. 7 (as Benvenuto di Giovanni);
B. Fredericksen, A Handbook of the Paintings in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu 1965, p. 13, no. A54.P-10, reproduced pl. 5 (as Benvenuto di Giovanni);
J. Paul Getty, The Joys of Collecting, New York 1965, pp. 31, 88, reproduced p. 89 (the entry on p. 88 written by J. Held) (as Girolamo di Benvenuto);
B. Fredericksen and D. Davisson, Benvenuto di Giovanni, Girolamo di Benvenuto:  Their Altarpieces in the J. Paul Getty Museum and a Summary Catalogue of Their Paintings in America, Malibu 1966, pp. 6, 18-22, 35, reproduced figs. 1, 3, 4 (as Girolamo di Benvenuto and/or Benvenuto di Giovanni);
B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance:  Central Italian and North Italian Schools, New York 1968, vol. 1, p. 40, (as Benvenuto di Giovanni);
B. Fredericksen, Catalogue of the Paintings in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu 1972, pp. 22-23, no. 26 (as Girolamo di Benvenuto);
B. Fredericksen and F. Zeri, Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections, Cambridge, MA 1972, p. 92 (as Girolamo di Benvenuto);
L. Cristin, ed., The J. Paul Getty Museum Guidebook, Malibu 1975, p. 59 (as Girolamo di Benvenuto);
B. Fredericksen, The J. Paul Getty Museum:  Greek and Roman Antiquities, Western European Paintings, French Decorative Arts of the Eighteenth Century, London 1975, p. 83, reproduced (as Girolamo di Benvenuto);
M.C. Bandera, "Variazioni ai Cataloghi Berensoniani di Benvenuto di Giovanni," in Scritti di storia dell'arte in onore di Ugo Procacci, Milan 1977, vol. 1, p. 312 (as a difficult attribution but ultimately closer to Girolamo di Benvenuto);
The J. Paul Getty Museum Guidebook, 4th Edition, Malibu 1976, p. 62 (as Girolamo di Benvenuto);
The J. Paul Getty Museum Guidebook, Malibu 1978, p. 78 (as Girolamo di Benvenuto);
F. Scalia and C. de Benedictis, Il Museo Bardini a Firenze, Milan 1984, vol. 1, p. 125, reproduced in situ in the Bardini collection in 1890, figs. LXXIII, LXXIV (as Girolamo di Benvenuto);
D. Arasse and Andreas Tönnesmann, La Renaissance Maniériste, Paris 1997, p. 319, reproduced;
D. Jaffé, Summary Catalogue of European Paintings in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles 1997, p. 53, reproduced (as Girolamo di Benvenuto);
A. Rothe and G. Marussich, "Florentine Structural Stabilization Techniques," in The Structural Conservation of Panel Paintings:  Proceedings of a Symposium at the J. Paul Getty Museum (24-28 April 1995), K. Dardes and A. Rothe, eds., Los Angeles 1998, p. 308, details reproduced figs. 2b, 3, 4 (as Girolamo di Benvenuto);
M.C. Bandera, Benvenuto di Giovanni, Milan 1999, p. 249, no. XIII, reproduced p. 134 (as Girolamo di Benvenuto ?);
E. Fahy, L'Archivo Storico Fotografico di Stefano Bardini:  Dipinti, Disegni, Miniature, Stampe, Florence 2000, p. 47, no. 404, reproduced, p. 249 and fig. 49 in situ in the galleria in 1887 (as Girolamo di Benvenuto).

Catalogue Note

This large and imposing altarpiece is appearing at auction for the first time.  Long considered to be the work of the Sienese artist Benvenuto di Giovanni, it was reattributed to his son Girolamo di Benvenuto by Zeri and others in the mid-1960s (see Literature).  In reality, however, the close collaboration of father and son between the years 1498 – the date of Girolamo's earliest dated painting – and 1509 – the year of Benvenuto's last dated painting – makes it extremely difficult to distinguish between their works, and Fredericksen was most likely correct when in 1966 he published this Nativity, datable on stylistic grounds to the years 1500-1510, as a collaboration between both artists (see Literature).2 

The Nativity, as it is represented here, is of a type that became popular in the fifteenth century, and which was based on the mystical vision of Saint Bridget of Sweden:

When I was present by the manger of the Lord in Bethlehem, I beheld a virgin of extreme beauty...With her was an old man of great honesty, and they brought with them an ox and an ass.  These entered the cave, and the man, after having tied them to the manger, went outside... Verily though, all of a sudden, I saw the glorious infant lying on the ground naked and shining.  His body was pure of any kind of soil and impurity...When therefore the virgin felt that she had already born her child, she immediately worshipped Him, her head bent down and her hands clasped, with great honor and reverence and said unto him, Be welcome my God, my Lord and my Son.3

Saint Bridget's vision – and its artistic representation in the present work – stresses the symbolic and mystical qualities of Christ's birth, rather than its human components.  The Virgin and Saint Joseph kneel in adoration before the Christ Child.  Behind Mary and Joseph is the cave with the ox and ass, which functions as a prefiguration of Christ's tomb, and therefore also of his resurrection.  By representing the Infant Christ as floating on an aureole of light with the Virgin and Saint Joseph already kneeling in veneration, Benvenuto and Girolamo seem to be employing continuous narration:  the viewer is witness to both the miraculous moment of the birth and also present at the adoration.  By stressing that the Virgin gives birth suddenly and without pain and that the Child appears bathed in light and immaculately clean, the vision downplays the human side of Christ's birth and focuses on its divinity, while the realistically rendered landscape background complete with the walled city of Bethlehem in the background, emphasizes the earthly setting of these heavenly events.  That this work was intended as an altarpiece is made obvious by the depiction of the Holy Trinity along the central axis of the composition, which emphasizes the mystery of the incarnation that is at the heart of the Christian faith.

The identification of the figure holding the rosary in the right roundel of the predella has long puzzled scholars.  Because he is depicted with rays of light radiating from his head – as opposed to a full halo like John the Baptist in the left roundel – it can be assumed that he is a beatified figure and not a saint.  His pale gray robes led to the supposition that he is either a Dominican or Carthusian monk; however, the discovery of what is apparently this altarpiece in Brogi's Sienese inventory suggests that he is in fact a Franciscan (see Literature and note 1 below).  In fact, if one compares the habit of this beato with those of Saints Francis and Anthony of Padua in Benvenuto's signed Assumption of the Virgin of 1498 in the Metropolitan Museum, the habits, scapulars and cords are almost identical.  Brogi's inventory lists this work as being in the chapel of San Egidio at the Convent of Saint Francis in Cetona; however, it would not appear that the figure is meant to represent Egidio, who was one of Saint Francis's most important followers, as the rosary was not one of his attributes.  Fredericksen suggests instead that he could be the little-known Blessed Pietro da Trequanda (or Travanda), who was a beatified Franciscan monk who died in 1492, shortly before the supposed date of the altarpiece and whose body was buried at the convent.4  Although no archival evidence has as of yet been discovered that definitively links this altarpiece to the Convent of Saint Francis in Cetona, certain circumstantial details do support the assumption that this is the altarpiece described by Brogi.  First, Benvenuto's wife Jacopa di Tommaso was a native of Cetona and the Convent there still possesses another painting attributed to his hand depicting The Madonna and Child Enthroned.5  Additionally, the convent was undergoing extensive construction in the years around 1500.6  Thus, it would seem probable that Benvenuto and his son Girolamo were commissioned to create an altarpiece for the chapel of San Egidio in honor of the recently deceased beato buried there.  

After its mention by Brogi, the altarpiece is next recorded in the collection of Stefano Bardini (1836-1922) in Florence.  Bardini was a connoisseur and dealer of Renaissance paintings, sculpture, cassoni and other furnishings and architectural fragments.  Trained originally as a painter and expert copyist, Bardini became known as an expert restorer and gradually expanded into dealing.  Unlike many of his contemporaries, however, Bardini seems to have been extremely scrupulous in his restoration campaigns:  his barely noticeable restoration of Simone Martini's Saint Catherine of Alexandria (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, inv. no. 6430) has been examined as an example of his seamless approach to conservation.7  Many works of the Italian Renaissance now in American public collections share Bardini provenance, including twenty works in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC and eight in the Metropolitan Museum, New York (Paolo Veronese, Boy with a Greyhound, no. 29.100.105, for example).  Extant photographs from 1887 and 1890, reproduced in L'Archivo Storico Fotografico di Stefano Bardini and Il Museo Bardini a Firenze (see Literature) show the work in situ in Bardini's private residence (fig. 1). 

We are grateful to Dr. Laurence Kanter for confirming the attribution to both Benvenuto di Giovanni and Girolamo di Benvenuto on the basis of firsthand inspection.

1.  The complete entry reads:  "Cappella di S Egidio, Quadri nelle pareti – La Madonna e S. Giuseppe genuflessi adorano Gesù Bambino posato in terra.  Nella Gloria vi è il Padre Eterno.  Nell'indietro a destra l'Angelo avvisa due pastori.  Nella parte inferiore vi sono in tre formelle circolari, La Pietà, S Giovanni e un Santo Francescano. Tavola colma nel lato superiore con figure un poco sotto il vero, alta 2,00 larga 1,72.—Secolo XV.  Benvenuto di Giovanni del Guasta."
2.  This opinion is also shared by Dr. Laurence Kanter who has recently examined the present work first hand.
3.  H. Cornell, "Iconography of the Nativity of Christ," in Upsala Universitets Arsskrift; filosofi, sprakvetenskap och historiska vetenskaper, vol. 3, 1924, pp. 11-13, quoted in Fredericksen and Davisson, op. cit., pp. 7-8.
4.  A brief biography of Pietro and a history of the convent can be found in Dionisio Pulinari (d. 1582), Cronache dei Frati Minori della Provincia di Toscana, secondo l'autografo d'Ognissanti, P. Saturnino Mecherini, ed., Arezzo 1913, pp. 388-389.
5.  Fredericksen and Davisson, op. cit., p. 21 and  fig. 7.
6.  C. Corticelli, Notizie e Documenti sulla storia di Cetona, Florence 1926, pp. 158-159.
7.  C. Hoeniger, "The Restoration of the Early Italian Primitives during the 20th Century:  Valuing Art and Its Consequences," in The Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, 38.2, Summer 1999, p. 148f:  "A Treatment by Stefano Bardini in the 1870s."